Actor Doug Ba’aser channels Joan Crawford in ‘Joan Crawford’s House Party’

By : Billy Manes
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Five years ago, Orlando actor Doug Ba’aser welcomed the whole world into his living room. Actually, he invited the planet into Joan Crawford’s House Party at her Brentwood estate (vis a vis a Fringe performance) in which he plays the well-known actress and inspiration for the book and film Mommie Dearest, penned by her adopted daughter Christina Crawford.

“It was a huge success; it was a major sell out,” he recalls. “It won Best in Fringe and we sold out the beautiful Pink Venue. Actually that show came from my lovely Brentwood home. Or at least guests were transformed into celebrants at my Brentwood home as soon as they walked in.”

For 35 years, Ba’aser has been lighting up stages – and living rooms; and bars – with his devil-may-care antics that illuminate the absurdities of life with humor. This year, Joan Crawford’s House Party returned and won Patron’s Pick at the Orlando Fringe, which has prompted him to resuscitate (once again) his alter ego Crawford for another dive into social commentary and audience participation set to the tune of a vodka drip and dancing boys.

The show, which he wrote (loosely, as much of it is improvised) with Orlando comedian Jeff Jones – with direction by Kenny Howard – is set to take a victory lap at the Parliament House Footlight Theatre July 8. The most recent iteration included none other than Donald Trump’s flack Kellyanne Conway, she of the perky cheekbones, passing out. Ba’aser pulls no punches, and as such, while drinking a Pepsi, naturally, he immediately morphed into Crawford for the purposes of an absurd fake interview with Watermark. He was an hour late, but Joan Crawford at the glamorous age of 112 can afford to be late to her own party. Here’s what went down, séance style.

Watermark: So, your given name was Lucille Lesuer, which makes you sound a bit like a canned pea. How did it feel when the Hollywood brass forced you to change your name to Joan Crawford?

Joan Crawford: Oh, I knew it had to be done. That name was not a name that would ever make it in Hollywood. And I wanted to kind of leave that past behind of scrubbing floors and growing up extremely, extremely poor. But once I became a star – the very best star – I was named accordingly.

You’ve been alive since 1905. How do you make it work?

Yes I have, and dead for 40 years. I died on May 10, 1977.

And you started as a simple showgirl.

I did, in the chorus, and I moved my way up. Let’s not say how particularly, but I did whatever I had to do to become a star.

When Joan Crawford throws a house party, what are the parameters for getting on the guest list?

I like to ring up an eclectic group of people and bring over those people. You know, mix people that wouldn’t normally mix together and just see what kind of fireworks ensue. But always gay boys. You have to bring gay boys to a party, always.

Do Christian Scientists, which you either are or were, welcome gay boys with open arms? It’s my understanding that they do not.

Not really, no. But that doesn’t matter. That doesn’t matter one bit. I like what I like. Liquor is a big factor in every party that we do. There’s no general theme, but we just want to have a good time; put together the right people and have a good time. I believe in lubricating it well with liquor.

Now comes the soft-lit part of our very revealing conversation. We need to talk about Christina and Christopher, both of whom you left out of your will for reasons “they would understand.”

Oh, my lovely, lovely children. I adopted five children in total, but they never want to talk about that, do they? They always want to talk about Christopher and Christina and that dreadful movie.

Let’s talk about that dreadful movie [Mommie Dearest]. How did you think Faye Dunaway did at playing you (who is actually playing you right now)?

She was a little over the top. I was happy that it ruined her career. I like the Oscar moment when I came out to greet the press and wasn’t there to get my Oscar. The telling of the Christmas story and the Christmas special on the radio was a nice part of the movie as well. Those were the only two parts I really enjoyed.

You didn’t enjoy the soap opera moment where you stood in for Christina on The Secret Storm?

Oh, I was really good in that. I took it upon myself to take my 28-year-old daughter’s place on the soap opera, and I must say I was excellent. I was also drunk the whole time. You have to be when you’re playing a 28 year old when you’re in your early- to late-50s.

Speaking of pepping up, you were a de facto member of the board at Pepsico. Was that a difficult transition for you: film star to board room?

I’m drinking a Pepsi. What else would I be drinking? It wasn’t really a challenge, because Hollywood is a business and you have to play a game and move in certain ways in certain corridors. I felt right at home, actually. My corridors were well used by that point.

Ok, gross. With Feud enchanting audiences earlier this year, telling the torrid history of your relationship with Bette Davis, particularly during the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? era, what’s your takeaway from your memorialization, or even your takeaway from the original film? Let’s talk Bette.

Must we? Must we? We just basically ignored each other throughout the first 20 years, and then this feud came up in the press. There was a small feud, mostly on her part, and then, of course, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? came along and that was fireworks. Was I fairly presented in Feud? I think in the mind of the public I was. I was more fairly portrayed in Feud. At least there was some empathy for me.

It seems that at the point in your career – the Baby Jane part – Hollywood was almost intentionally dragging its former celestial beings into the gutter of panic and pathos. Older women didn’t really fit the construct of the early-‘60s starlet. Was that something that was palpable at the time?

Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes and yes. I think they just had no more use for us, so they would either write horrible things for us, or about us, and the films got worse and worse.

Let’s talk about Trog, then. You famously once said that if you had seen that marquee from across the street for that horror film, you would commit suicide.

I did say that. But now I understand that they show it at camp movie festivals and gay bars and big club events, which is perfectly fine with me. I still want my name out there!

And there’s no better way than getting Kellyanne Conway to come over – and fall over – at one of your notorious house parties.

She’s the sweetest. She has a very soft look. She obviously takes care of her hair and makeup, but she’s an atrocious woman.

Generally speaking, should people who are invited to your party feel like very special people? Like, maybe, the luckiest people in the world?

Oh, yes. Of course, anyone is welcome to the one at Parliament House on July 8 to be in the audience, and you may often get pulled up into the show, but not unless you want to. We make that very clear. People are afraid if they come to the show they are going to be forced to participate, which is simply not true. And Kellyanne will be there again, and we may have other special guest stars that no one has ever seen before. Who knows who will suffer?

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